Why watch telly at all?

On Sunday night we started watching Mayday, a BBC drama about a teenage girl who goes missing on Mayday and is assumed to have been murdered in the nearby forest (see here). The townsfolk gather and search for her through the night, to no avail. We are then introduced to a handful families who live nearby and have varying levels of disfunctionality, which makes them – in turn – prime suspects.


This five part series has been on for four consecutive nights and I’m gripped. I was initially lured by the cast: Sophie Okonedo (see image above), Peter Firth, Aidan Gillen, Lesley Manville – but soon found myself familiarly absorbed by the classic ‘who dun it’ storyline.

On Monday, we also started watching Broadchurch – an ITV drama about a young boy found dead on a beach in Dorset (see here). The police are treating his death as suspicious. It clashed with Monday night’s Mayday, but – thank God for Itvplayer – we were able to watch it on catchup. An eight part series, with a best-of-British cast (David Tenant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, and Vicky McClure) – Broadchurch leaves a week between episodes, allowing suspense to build.


The Dorset accents are a little off – having lived in nearby Somerset, I can guarantee that those characters, in that town in Dorset, wouldn’t have the broad accents that these actors have been told to attempt. It does detract slightly from the drama. But fortunately Tennant hasn’t been asked to disguise his wonderful Scottish accent under a West Country slur. I’ve digressed from my original question about why we watch telly…

So anyway. Every night, after watching these crime thrillers, I’ve woken up in a cold sweat, shaking – after back-to-back nightmares. I wondered if I should stop watching murderous dramas but I just can’t – I love them.

Rich asked me this morning why I care so much about dramas (I do care a great deal about a good BBC, and – more recently – ITV drama). He said that he never remembers them, or considers them again – once the series has finished. I asked him if he thinks about Spaced, the late 90s comedy series with Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg that we’re watching on DVD at the moment, and he said yes.

So why does Rich mull over decade-old comedies, post-watching – but not care so much for dramas? (though he did ask me, on first waking this morning, who I thought the murderer was in Mayday. I haven’t yet guessed out-loud and he said it’s pointless to watch these crime dramas if you’re not going to all share your predictions. His guess changes every five minutes; he’s named every character as the murderer – as you’re expected to – and this, I told him, is why I don’t share my every changing thought on who it might be.)

I think the reason I like dramas is the same reason I like novels: I enjoy the voyeuristic view into other people’s lives. I’m nosey about relationships, how people bring up their children, their jobs – and whether they love them, hate them, bunk off or work hard. In real life, murder is shocking and we want to know where, when, why and how it happened. So we can also appreciate a dramatised murder; which answers all the questions in one go.

When watching dramas, we compare the characters lives to our own: is my boyfriend like that? Does my mum think that of me? Do my friends bitch behind my back like that? And we also question our morals: what would I do if my husband accidentally killed someone, would I fake an alibi?

I no longer watch the soaps I used to so love: Eastenders, Neighbours, Home and Away, as I really wasn’t gaining anything – nothing much ever seems to happen. But I do watch Holby City (guilty pleasure). I justify this, to myself, by insisting that I’m learning about the treatment of ailments and illnesses knowing, full well, that I’m learning nothing at all – I just like all the hanky panky between the hospital staff.

The reason, I conclude, that we should all continue to watch loads of telly is because whether we think about a drama continuously for the next week, or never again – it can be a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour. As can catching up on 90s comedy series, which make you laugh (because of the atrocious sound quality and dated technology, rather than the lines). Whatever floats your ‘TV’ boat.

And so I wait, with baited breath, for tonight’s penultimate episode of Mayday – and for the second episode of Broadchurch on Monday. And with somewhat less baited breath for the next six episodes of the crackly, dated, depressing Spaced DVD that Rich will force me to watch in exchange for having to sit through my dramas.

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